Compiled by Sam Watermeier and Mitch Ringenberg
George W. Bush is no longer a joke. Instead of following the same satirical path as Will Ferrell and Stephen Colbert with this biopic, filmmaker Oliver Stone takes one of the most daring steps of this political-fueled year: treating Bush, one of the least popular presidents in American history, like a human being. Even more surprising is Josh Brolin’s towering performance. It is one of those rare, immersive biographical portrayals that make you forget you are merely watching an actor. He creates a charismatic and often tragic character. By exploring his insecurities more than his politics, Stone and Brolin give Bush’s story a transcendent, universal appeal.
2. “The Dark Knight”
“The Dark Knight” is one giant leap forward for the superhero genre. Here, director Christopher Nolan (“The Prestige,” “Memento”) creates what can be called the first truly adult superhero film. The film is packed with a brilliant cast, excellent script and breathtaking action sequences. Christian Bale is great as usual, playing Batman, but the real gem here is Heath Ledger as the Joker. A masochistic clown, he is one of the most unique and intriguing villains since Hannibal Lecter. “The Dark Knight” will surely go down as a classic, not only in the action-superhero genre, but in film in general.
3. “In Bruges”
This is simply the funniest and most original comedy of the year–which is saying a lot considering all of this year’s great comedies (“Tropic Thunder,” “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” “Role Models”). Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two hitmen who are sent to the Belgian city of Bruges to sightsee among other deadly tasks. Farrell and Gleeson’s chemistry is the core of the film’s comedic genius. The real standout performance, though, is the downright hilarious Ralph Fiennes as the men’s obnoxiously crazy boss. Surprisingly, this film deals with heavier issues beneath its humorous exterior like guilt, morality, and the afterlife.
4. “Funny Games”
Brutal, but poignant, “Funny Games” challenges its audience to question their feelings about violence in the cinema. Audiences used to the “torture porn” of modern horror films will be dumbfounded at what they see here. The story is simple. Two seemingly polite young men go from house to house holding families hostage and doing whatever they like with them. This mostly includes torture and humiliation. The film follows one family and the “games” that ensue. “Funny Games” is not particularly violent, but the emotional intensity of the film is almost impossible to endure. However, those that can sit through it and understand its message will find much to appreciate.
5. “Iron Man”
With many superhero films, I find myself simply waiting for the hero to jump into action. In this film, however, Robert Downey, Jr. is so charming and witty as alter ego Tony Stark that one won’t mind if Iron Man doesn’t show up right away. People seem to only concern themselves with dark, gritty comic book films these days and “Iron Man” provides a dose of fun escapism, which is refreshing. In that sense, it is perfect counter-programming to “The Dark Knight.” More importantly, though, it shows that style does not always triumph over substance with its engaging and sometimes even tender performances.